Before this trip, the last time I visited Montréal I was with a group of friends and 19 years old. Needless to say, the emphasis of that trip was cheap hotels, cheap drinks, cheap food and the world famous Montréal strip clubs. Fifteen years later with the dollar still strong and Valentine’s weekend approaching, I thought it was a perfect time to revisit this city as an adult. Montréal only being a 6 ½ hour car ride from New York City, makes it a great destination for a long weekend. I stayed just a couple blocks from Old Montréal, which is my favorite area of the city because it’s in great proximity for cheap Uber rides and charming nineteenth century French influenced architecture nestled between cobblestone roads. After checking into the hotel, my very first stop was Schwartz's for their world famous smoked meat sandwich, half sour pickles and of course, poutine. The temperature that day was a low of -19° F, with the wind-chill feeling more like -38° F, but I packed accordingly and waited online outside for nearly 20 minutes. Yes, every bite was worth the burning numb feeling from the cold.
After lunch, it was a quick cab ride to the nearby La Distillerie for some of their creative cocktails. For the first dinner, I booked a reservation for Tapas 24 owned by Chef Carles Abellan, alumni of El Bulli. When I heard he opened a new restaurant in Montréal, I was very excited to dine here after eating at both of his restaurants in Barcelona, 1 star Comerç 24 and one of my most enjoyable meals of Spain, Tapas 24. The food at Tapas 24 Montréal was very good, but not the same as in Barcelona and a much different feel in the restaurant, but still a highly recommended Montréal dining experience. If you never experienced the liquid olive tribute to El Bulli, Chef Abellan offers it on the menu. His beef tartare and marrow was some of the best I’ve ever had and the oysters from the super cold local waters were memorable. Another don’t miss tapa is their cod croquette drizzled with Canadian maple syrup, unusual pairing, but outstanding.
The following day I was excited to go to the Polar Bear Club outside of Montréal, but with the temperature being in the negative teens, it was not ideal to be in the outside pools, heated or not. So instead, I decided to embrace my geeky side and make a trip to Montréal’s Biodome, where it was a steamy 75° F. It was a fun way to waste away a freezing afternoon, but I highly recommend purchasing tickets on their website to skip the line of hundreds.
That afternoon, I had lunch at Buck 15, a very popular small café with a small, but excellent menu. I had a couple great pour over coffees, a delicious avocado toast with soft egg and a mind blowingly good Montréal style sesame bagel with local hand cut smoked salmon, arugula, dill, the slightest amount of cream cheese and a soft boiled egg. This café really understands the importance of acidity and proper seasoning on even the simplest dishes - highly recommended and very affordable.
For pre-dinner cocktails and snacks, I visited La Campagnerie on St. Paul Street, one of the most popular cobblestone streets in Montréal. They have a large selection of champagne and sparkling wines by the glass, and if you purchase a bottle, you’re able to saber it yourself. There were clear plexiglass windows on one of the walls of the bar that were completely filled with sabered corks; I thought this was a really clever way to sell bottles. Because I visited in the winter time, the oyster selection here was great and super fresh, all being served with creative mignonettes.
Right down the street, something hip and a little more affordable was Mimi’s la Nuit, which had a full bar and also offered many wines by the glass. The menu offered at the bar was also very reasonably priced and of good quality.
For Valentine’s Day dinner, we visited Hoogan et Beaufort, a restaurant a little off the beaten path, but getting a lot of buzz in Montréal. The menu was a 5 course prix-fixe that was reasonably priced at C$70 per person with an option for wine pairing for an additional C$50 pp. The menu was very clever and skillfully executed. It’s clear that the chef is very talented and put a lot of thought into this menu as well the wine pairings. It’s an open kitchen displaying a huge fire pit where a lot of the components for the dishes were prepared in. Some of the most enjoyable bites of the meal were the creative spins on vegetables that the chef prepared using that open fire pit. The restaurant is in what looks like an industrial area and is attached to an old factory. The original exposed ceilings were a nice touch, but I was not a fan of the rest of the décor. The tables and chairs were something you would find in more of a café. These casual details did affect the ambience and didn’t match with the sophistication of the food. Overall, I feel that the chef and his team did a great job and I enjoyed the dinner - I’d like to go back there a night when they are offering a full menu and order more tapas style.
The following day for lunch before leaving Montréal, Poutine Centrale was highly recommended to me. It’s located in a very French neighborhood as the staff speaks minimal English. Order a bunch of different things to try - I’d recommend the smoked meat poutine and one of their burgers. Their burgers are very different styles to what we’re used to, the patty being along the sorts of a meatloaf patty, served on a delicious bun with great condiments. Being only about a 10 minute drive from Old Montréal, I’d say it was worth the drive for a great poutine.